It wasn’t pretty Friday and it certainly wasn’t pretty Saturday either, but No. 4 Nebraska leaves New Jersey with a 6-0 record on the season after two wins over Rutgers this weekend. The Huskers took down the Scarlet Knights 3-1 Saturday afternoon (22-25, 25-14, 25-14, 25-20), despite falling behind by one set to start.
Speaking of that first set, it was the first one Rutgers has taken from Nebraska since 1978. It was met by the Scarlet Knights hitting .400, which Coach John Cook gave them plenty of credit for during his appearance on the radio after the match.
“I thought Rutgers played really well tonight,” Cook said. “They served really well and passed really well. They have some crafty hitters, their setter . . . We had to fight tonight. It was a really good battle. They really played and deserved to win Game 1. We put more pressure on in Game 2 and 3 and it was a battle until the end in Game 4.”
Things started rough for the Huskers in the second set, but they managed to take advantage of eight Rutgers errors to close it out on a 13-2 run. Nebraska found a little more footing in the third set, ending it on a 10-2 run. The fourth set became another battle for Nebraska, going back and forth throughout. It was tied at 18-18 before the Huskers started to pull away.
“I just think they’re gaining confidence,” Cook said about Rutgers.
While the Scarlet Knights are now 1-7 overall on the season, Cook doesn’t think anyone should take them lightly. He pointed to Rutgers’ win over Indiana, saying that some might want to overlook them but it would be a mistake to do so. He credited the Scarlet Knights for battling all night and pushing Nebraska to play hard to get the win.
As for the Huskers, Lexi Sun backed up her Friday night performance at Rutgers with another strong showing on Saturday. She recorded 15 kills, alongside Lauren Stivrins who did the same. Madi Kubik had 14. Nicklin Hames ended her night with 49 assists, while McKenzie Knuckles had 20 digs.
With players like Sun and Stivrins, Cook was pleased with the big swings because he said that’s what it takes to win the big matches. However, as Rutgers showed, Nebraska can’t rely on just that to win.
“We’re trying to get these guys to be really aggressive but to also mix in shots and do some different things,” Cook said. “We’ve been working hard at it.”
He noted the Huskers will continue to work at it. The staff stresses that the team has to be able to mix things up. That will remain a focus going forward.
For fans wondering where Kayla Caffey was on Saturday—she had seven kills on .545 hitting and three blocks Friday afternoon—Cook said it wasn’t a mistake after being asked about the lineup post-game. He said he wanted to start Callie Schwarzenbach in place of Caffey.
“We wanted to play Callie tonight and I wanted to see how Kayla could do coming in as a sub, because we like playing both of those guys,” Cook said. “Callie gives us blocking, Kayla gives us offense.”
With that said, Cook noted that the team will have to continue to figure out what to do with both Caffey and Schwarzenbach. He said Saturday was an experiment but it wasn’t perfect yet.
Next up for Nebraska? No. 5 Minnesota at home. The Huskers will face the Golden Gophers next Friday (8 p.m. CT) and Sunday (11 a.m. CT). Both matchups will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
“We just got to continue to get better and trust our process and be ready to take it up another notch,” Cook said. “Because Minnesota . . . the schedule doesn’t get any easier.”